Being Intelligent Isn’t Going to Save Your Startup

July 21, 2014

4:30 pm

While a strong case can be made that the upper echelons of society many times over are led by those with the intellectual capacity to invent new technologies, uncover the universe’s deepest secrets, and make decisions on behalf of the world’s micro-societies, the notion that intelligence alone is the defining cause of such domination – isolated from any other factors – is flawed. To make more sense out of this, consider the situation within the startup world itself; despite the overwhelming participation of bright minds from the likes of Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Harvard, and the like, nine out of ten startups still persistently fail. The point, here, is simply: intelligence alone isn’t going to save your startup.

In a blog post originally posted on Max Klein’s blog in 2010 and reposted recently on Jamie Begin’s blog, Klein shares a personal experience from a trip to Brazil in 2004 during which he and a hostel mate named Ofer encountered a man on the street intending to rob them with an equipped knife. His hostel mate, luckily, had previous experience as an Israeli solider and was able to disarm him. Reflecting on the experience Klein writes:

“[The robber] had a tool that he felt gave him an advantage, but it’s nothing compared to a person who has no tool, but has worked to develop what he has…Intelligence is like a knife. If you are intelligent, you are at a clear advantage against people who are not intelligent. But if you are intelligent, and another person is not as intelligent, but the other person is willing to train harder than you, the other person will very quickly overtake you in ability.”

Being innately intelligent can serve as a potential point of vulnerability for anyone. For startup founders who rely solely on the belief that their mere intellect can get their startup to succeed, the honing of one’s intelligence and the overall improvement of one’s self may be ideas completely missing from their radars. According to Klein, most intelligent people aren’t used to failure and would rather continue excelling in fields where their intellect have found comfort – they avoid risk and the potential for failure.

“But there is a point where every intelligent person faces something that requires more than intelligence. It requires hard work, it requires the ability to fail, it requires being able to do tough tasks, boring tasks. For the first time in their life, in spite of their intelligence, these intelligent people are challenged, and they start failing…They refuse to face new problems because they know they will not be able to handle them, and this does not fit into their worldview that they are invincible.”

Klein shares a few more anecdotes in his post, and while the post is from four years ago, the ideas laid out very much still apply to startup founders today. Many founders fall into the belief that their ideas are brilliant (and that their strategies flawless) that the idea of failure eludes them until it’s too late. As a last word, Klein writes:

“So don’t believe that the brilliance of your idea is what will make you successful. What will make you successful is when you are out there every day, doing something new, challenging yourself, trying new methods, studying new ways, having a lot of small failures, then getting better every day.”

You can read Max Klein’s blog post in its entirety here. 

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Ronald Barba is a senior writer and editor for Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". He also likes to cook things; you can check out all the noms on his Instagram. Email Ronald (ronald@tech.co) or tweet @RonaldPBarba. You can also subscribe to him on Facebook or find him on Google.

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